Mon, 10 Feb 2003

Fishermen still feel pinch of high fuel prices

Multa Fidrus, The Jakarta Post, Tangerang, Banten

The high price of diesel fuel has caused hundreds of fishermen in six coastal districts north of Tangerang regency to stop fishing.

Most of them, who live in Kosambi, Teluk Naga, Pakuhaji, Sukadiri, Mauk and Kronjo districts, have chosen to stay at home or to seek other work in order to make ends meet.

They said they had to buy diesel fuel at Rp 3,200 (35 US cents) per liter as compared to the official price of Rp 1,650.

In response to nationwide protests against the fuel price hike, the government cut last month diesel fuel from Rp 1,890 to Rp 1,650 per liter, but local fishermen's cooperatives that supply the fishermen with diesel fuel still sell it at between Rp 3,000 and Rp 3,200 per liter.

"For one day at sea, we need at least 40 liters of fuel. It means that the fishermen must spend at least Rp 120,000 only for fuel and we have other operational costs amounting to Rp 100,000," 56-year old Dullah, who has been working as a fisherman for 30 years, told The Jakarta Post in a recent interview.

Dullah, a resident of Dadap village in Kosambi district, said the diesel fuel supplies always came late to the cooperatives due to damaged roads connecting the fuel stations to the villages, so that fishermen frequently had to buy diesel fuel from retailers at Rp 3,500 per liter.

"If we return from the sea with a huge haul, we can sell Rp 250,000 worth of fish. And after deducting the daily operational costs, we still have Rp 30,000 which we must divide among the three of us in the boat.

"One fisherman will only get Rp 10,000 then," said the father of six children.

He said such conditions made many fishermen reluctant to sail and to just submit to their fate.

Asmanto, 42, a fisherman of Surya Bahari village in Pakuhaji district, said the high price of diesel fuel had hit all fishermen in the village, while the selling price of fish at the local fish auction (TPI) remained the same as before.

"Most of the fishermen here are no longer able to go to sea since the government increased fuel prices," he said, while citing that some fishermen had sought work at illegal sand mining sites.

The father of two, who hails from Cirebon in West Java, said that he and other fishermen, who still went to the sea despite the high fuel price, had reduced their sailing time because they could not afford to buy fuel for longer days at sea.

"Before the fuel price was increased, I spent two days at the sea and returned with huge haul. But, now I leave the land at 8 a.m. and must return in the evening with less fish in hand," he said.

Meanwhile, Nurman, a Kronjo district resident who has been working as fisherman for 20 years, said the hike in diesel fuel was not followed by an increase in fish prices at the fish auction, while the fisherman faced higher overhead costs.

He said that most fishermen did not have their own boats.

"And since most of us use rented boats, we are only allowed to sell our fish to middlemen already appointed by the boat owners at the TPI.

"Fisherman here live like birds in cages because we cannot freely sell our haul. Middlemen usually pay low prices," Nurman said.

"It is said that the government always sides with the little people, but the fact is that the little people like us are always the target of extortion. If the government increases fuel prices again, no fishermen will go to the sea and we had better just die."

Similarly, Firdaus, head of Karang Serang fishing village in Sukadiri district told the Post that many fishermen in the village could no longer go to the sea because they could not afford the fuel.

"Fishermen have no where to go to file a complaint. Like other low-income earners, we are the ones who have to suffer due to the government's policy," he said.

Nonetheless, the government has indicated it will again increase fuel prices in three phases this year -- in April, July and October.